Millie Christine: The Life and Legal Battles of the Carolina Twins explores the lives of enslaved conjoined twins who were considered physical oddities and exhibited as circus and side show attractions throughout the United States and Europe beginning in the pre-Civil War era.

The exhibit examines the complexities of freedom, profit and family connection for the McCoy twins through the Freedmen’s Bureau and its records.

Although we speak of ourselves in the plural we feel as but one person...although we bear the names Millie and Christina, one thing is certain, we would not wish to be severed, even if science could effect a separation. We are contented with our lot and are happy as the day is long. We have but one heart, one feeling in common, one desire, one purpose.

Millie and Christine McCoy
The History of the Carolina Twins 


Millie and Christine published a memoir in the 1800s that detailed their life, travels and experiences.   For much of their childhood, Millie and Christine were often the victims of contested ownership, leaving the twins separated from their parents and seven older siblings. Considered physical oddities, they were forced to undergo frequent medical examinations.

After slavery ended, Mary A. Smith, the last enslaver of the McCoy Family refused to emancipate the twins and planned to smuggle Millie and Christine to Europe. Jacob and Monemia McCoy then appealed to the Freedmen's Bureau to have their daughters returned to their custody.

Explore The Storylines

Letter dated October 26, 1865 detailing the McCoy’s claim 

Freedmen's Bureau and the McCoy Custody Battle

In 1865, toward the end of the Civil War, Congress established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, also known as the Freedmen’s Bureau. The Bureau assisted in the reconstruction of the South and aided newly freed African Americans in their transition to freedom. It operated in all 15 southern and border states, including Washington, DC. The Bureau helped build schools, reunited families, provided health and legal services, and legalized marriages.
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Circus Advertisement poster of Joice Heth, c. 1835. Poster reads "The Greatest Natural  Curiosity In the World", "Joice Heth" is written vertically beneath on either side.

African Americans & The Circus

The history of African American performers in the "circus" starts in the world of museums and side-shows. The side-show traveled with a circus or carnival but was usually secondary and displayed "human oddities", such as people with body modifications, conjoined twins, people with dwarfism, and people whose appearance did not fit what society considered to be normal.  During the 19th and early to mid-20th centuries, African Americans were unlikely to get jobs as performers in the circus unless it was as part of the side show.  
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Twins of Bamako - Portrait of twin black female wearing traditional African dress. Both have one leg up in a chair with  arms bent on there knees.

On Being Twins

When Monemia McCoy gave birth to Millie and Christine their arrival gave quite a stir for Hannah the midwife who safely delivered the conjoined twins weighing in at 17 pounds. (1) Despite Millie weighing less than half than her Christine at birth, the sisters met normal benchmarks for child development and shared good health for the rest of their lives. Being conjoined twins would remain the defining identity for the McCoy sisters.
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Journey Through the Life of Millie Christine McCoy

A Closer Look

Family Census of Jacob and Menemia McCoy

Family History and Legacy 

After the custody battle, Jacob McCoy purchased the farm owned by McKay, his former enslaver. This allowed him to provide for his family and leave a sizeable estate to his wife and children upon his death.
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Find Your Ancestors  

Learn to search the Freedmen’s Bureau records to uncover your family’s story in the post-emancipation era  


The Freedmen's Bureau Records

The museum tells the story of the post-Civil War transition of enslaved people to freedom by making the records of the Freedmen’s Bureau accessible online.
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Smithsonian Transcription Center

The Smithsonian Transcription Center is a pan-Smithsonian website that allows digital volunteers, or “volunpeers,” from around the world to transcribe documents, photograph captions, field books, and other materials online.
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Family reunion of a group of women, men and children

Robert Frederick Smith Explore Your Family History Center

The Robert Frederick Smith Explore Your Family History Center helps people begin their family history journey and learn the basics of researching African American genealogy.
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Image of Make Good the Promises Entrance

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Make Good the Promises: Reconstruction and Its Legacies focuses on the story of Reconstruction—the period following the Civil War—through an African American lens.
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